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Religious Freedom, Indiana, Arkansas and a Book Review: Square Affair

It's not often I read a book and stop because it's just not me.  However, reading Timmothy Holt's Square Affair was daunting.  I struggled from page 1 til the very end.  The book touched upon subjects that were so taboo to me.  I put the book down and commissioned myself to not doing a review at all.  However, the recent uproar over the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts being passed in Indiana and Arkansas gave me a new perspective and I challenged myself to read it all the way through.

Background:  In the small Midwestern town of Dewers, amidst the turmoil of the 1960s, the casual conversations of five men lead to public sex in the courthouse restroom. Their arrest for public indecency takes the town on a journey through good and evil that will alter it, as well as the five men and their families. 

Through it all the town confirms its perseverance of community and ability to survive. Each man tells his version of the story that starts at Squeaky’s bar with a planned weekend fishing trip. On that weekend the five men discover a shared sexual interest in each other. This newfound release triggers a need for more, leading to anonymous sex in the courthouse restroom. Their private encounters become public knowledge when the sheriff, acting on a tip, observes the behavior. All are arrested and accused of public indecency, a charge that could land them in jail or a psychiatric hospital. It will lead the town out of its ordinary world and through a land of forbidden, deviant sexual behavior. The men reveal complex, unknown, and differing motivations for their behavior. It is not erotic but gives insight into the behavior’s erotic appeal. On the day of the men’s hearing, Clara May, a retired English teacher, and Frieda, a retired principal’s assistant, guide us through the thoughts and actions of the men and their families as they await the outcome. Bob, a law professor, has experimented sexually with other men. Sexual tension in his marriage leads both him and his wife to seek gratification elsewhere. Gary is a transplant from Chicago. He knows he is attracted to men. As an outsider, Gary is mistrusted by the town and blamed for the affair. Thomas, a farmer, experimented sexually in the Navy. His continued desires, deeply held religious beliefs, and controlling parents threaten him and his marriage. He turns to alcohol. James, a car dealer, satisfies his identity crisis with a red sports car and sexual release at out-of-town meetings. His wife suspects but she does not act until her husband’s arrest. Danny’s fundamentalist father forces him to live with his grandfather because of his interest in male muscle magazines. Two questions are on all their minds: Who am I? Is anyone out there like me? After the hearing the men meet at Washington Street Bar, a place where anonymity is respected.Knowing there will be a plea deal and no jail, the men discuss tomorrow’s uncertainty. Returning home from the bar, each man confronts the day’s events with their families. Readers learn, through Clara May and Frieda, that the town questions if it will maintain its natural order of life or enter the stream of a changing world. One thing is certain:Pastor Jones will not cross that threshold of change and tells the town to shun the men and their evil ways. The ordeal brings the men, their families, and Dewers an armor of truth where acceptance can find a home. Not even Pastor Jones’s sword of words will penetrate it. No one remains unchanged. The town finds it has the power to heal, to change, thanks to the power of forgiveness.

My Thoughts:  Clara May and Frieda, the town gossips, provide a riveting tale from their perspective.  Their judgement hidden by a veil of righteousness mirrors that of state legislators everywhere who are wrestling with how to propose legislation to protect the religious freedoms of their constituents.  The story isn't so much about the actions of the men, but rather other people's perceptions of the actions of the men.  Yes, we know by the men's confessions what they did in surrendering to their flesh and the repercussions of their actions.  What is done.  The secret they shared has now been made public and their lives and the lives of those they love are forever changed.

Square Affair speaks volumes about politics of our time.  We are a nation struggling to embrace biblical principles regarding love.  Funny, the story takes place in the 1960s and here we are some fifty years later struggling with the same thing.  

Overall, a pretty good read once you get past the judgement. 


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